Chick-fil-A Kickoff ‘disappointed’ all three planned matchups are off

All three matchups planned for Chick-fil-A Kickoff games in Atlanta this year are off as a result of a decision made Wednesday by the ACC in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The games were to have matched ACC-member Florida State vs. the Big 12′s West Virginia on Sept. 5, the ACC’s Virginia vs. the SEC’s Georgia on Sept. 7 and the ACC’s North Carolina vs. the SEC’s Auburn on Sept. 12, all at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

But those matchups were eliminated by the ACC board of directors’ decision that the league’s football teams will play 11-game schedules this year, with a single non-conference game permitted per team and all non-conference games required to be held in the home state of the ACC participant.

“That was a tough one – took all three games out of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff,” Gary Stokan, president and CEO of Peach Bowl Inc., said Thursday. “We fully understand, obviously, that the safety of the student-athletes is most important, and we understand the ACC’s decision-making process.

“It just goes to show this is a strange year, and certainly you have to be nimble, you have to be flexible. … We had three good games set up, so it’s disappointing we can’t have the opportunity to host the teams and the games. We’re not disappointed in the ACC; we’re disappointed in not having the ability to host.”

Stokan hadn’t given up as of Thursday afternoon on the possibility of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff lining up at least one replacement matchup not involving an out-of-state ACC team. But that seemed a long shot with the SEC going to a conference-only schedule and the Big 12 also weighing schedule-format changes.

“Obviously we’re not in control of anything, but we’re open for business,” Stokan said. “We’re available and interested and willing to assist any of our partners to put on a game.”

The decision by the ACC came amid continuing questions about whether the COVID-19 pandemic will permit a college football season to be played at all. The ACC said its new schedule format will be used “if public health guidance allows.”

“Everybody is trying to do the best they can to just get a college football season in, health obviously being most paramount,” Stokan said.

The Chick-fil-A Kickoff, operated by Peach Bowl Inc., started in 2008 and has hosted at least one game every year since then, making it college football’s current longest-running season-opening neutral-site event. The event has hosted two games in each of three years, but had never attempted more than that in one year until lining up three games for 2020.

Before the ACC decision, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff had been working on contingency plans for games with various levels of reduced seating capacity to allow for social distancing in the stands. The reduced capacity would have meant lower payouts to each participating team than originally planned, but Stokan said those negotiations hadn’t occurred at the time of the ACC decision.

The end-of-season Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl is scheduled for Jan. 1. Stokan said the bowl “will be flexible on the date” if a change needs to be made because of the coronavirus.